Today is the first day of the 30-day plastic-free challenge and all of us have questions. To do something radical takes a shift. It takes an examination. And even then, we slip. But we learn a little more and keep moving forward.
I wanted to write this blog post to talk a little bit about what I've learned about this issue. When I went down to Baja with Emily + Corey from Where's My Office Now and Dillon + Tessa from The Bus and Us, we saw the plastic issue firsthand on the beaches.
The fact is, it's really hard to avoid buying and/or using plastic. If you go to the store, the majority of items available come in plastic packaging. If you order an iced coffee, you're handed a plastic cup and straw. If you have a dog, plastic plays a role in the dog food you purchase and how you pick up your dog's waste.
It's not always convenient or affordable to not use plastic. You have to buy products like reusable containers or utensils, biodegradable/compostable bags or mason jars (more on that in the plastic-free toolkit section). You have to sometimes drive out of your way to a bulk grocery store or farmer's market.
Sometimes you find yourself in a plastic situation (someone puts a plastic straw in your drink or gives you your iced coffee in a plastic cup when you intentionally handed them a reusable one) and you're faced with a dilemma. The damage is already done. So why should we try at all? What's going on?
So what's the issue?
Plastic is in just about everything. Fifty percent of the plastic we use is used only once and then thrown away. Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times. We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce. (Source: ecowatch.com).
What's worse is that people are not changing their habits. In one week, we use about 10 billion plastic bags worldwide. Every hour in the US, an average of 2.5 million plastic bottles are used. And daily, people are using more than 500 million straws.
But what about recycling?
Recycling is important and we shouldn't stop making efforts to recycle plastic waste. But did you know that 91% of plastic isn't recycled? (Source: “The Production, Use, and Fate of all Plastics Ever Made,” published in Science Advances and conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia and the University of California). Based on these numbers, the study suggests 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will be occupying landfills or polluting oceans by 2050.
Plastic in Oceans
One of the things we leave behind when we leave this Earth is 102 tons of garbage, much of which ends up in water.
The Center for Biological Diversity says that in the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.
And this directly impacts the wildlife in those areas. If you eat fish, you should know that fish in the North Pacific ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year, which can cause intestinal injury and death and transfers plastic up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals. A recent study found that a quarter of fish at markets in California contained plastic in their guts, mostly in the form of plastic microfibers.
Sea turtles are also at risk. Sea turtles mistake floating plastic garbage for food. This video below of a marine biologist taking a straw out of a turtle's nose is heartbreaking.
Oceans cover 75% of the planet and hold 97% of Earth’s water. Eight million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. Oceans provide more than half of the oxygen we breathe and absorb carbon. We need healthy oceans. Oceans need us to change. (Source: intothearena.org)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water after a new analysis of some of the world's most popular bottled water brands found that more than 90% contained tiny pieces of plastic. A previous study also found high levels of microplastics in tap water.
Increasingly people are becoming concerned about the impacts on food and beverages being stored and cooked in plastic. Common additives to plastic include BPA (bisphenol A) and phthalates, both chemicals which have can harmful effects on humans. In 2013 the UN and WHO reported that evidence linking hormone-mimicking chemicals to human health problems has grown stronger over the past decade, becoming a "global threat" that should be addressed.
What is the challenge?
I'm not one who likes having rules, but I know that it certainly helps to know what it means for you to take part in a plastic-free challenge. So for each of you, these rules might be different. These are some guidelines I'm going to use and you're welcome to adapt to what work for you.
For the next 30 days:
- Avoid using single-use plastic purchases (food, drinks, cleaning or personal care products that come in plastic containers).
- Avoid buying any packaged fruit and vegetables.
- Avoid using plastic pet waste bags.
- Avoid meats, cheeses or milk that come in plastic containers.
I'm not sure I can do it. I have to use plastic.
There may be things in your daily life that revolve around using plastic that make it hard to partake in this challenge. One of my friends is a nurse and she has to use plastic in her job. Maybe you have to take a prescription that comes in plastic bottles. And what about if you have a dog? How do you go about buying dog food in bulk?
The purpose of this is to look at how much plastic you use each day and make small changes. We can challenge those companies that have products made in plastic and ask for them to work on a more sustainable solution. Together we can empower people to change their ways. A small shift can go a long way and can save so much plastic waste. If we all send emails and messages to companies about their products coming in plastic packaging, they will be forced to look at alternatives.
- Bring your own reusable cups for drinks (Hydro Flask products are my favorite).
- Bring your own reusable utensils (I like Bamboo To-Go Ware Travel Utensils).
- Bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping.
- Bring your own to-go containers when you go out to eat.
- Bring your own stainless-steel drinking straw when you order a drink (I've heard good things about FinalStraw).
- Visit your nearest bulk or eco-home goods store.
- Make your own shampoo, conditioners, soaps, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.
- Buy fruit and vegetables in their natural form and/or visit a farmer's market.
- Use compostable or biodegradable bags for pet waste or compost waste in a mature compost pile in a garden.
- Buy some plants or join a community garden to grow some of your own food or spices.
Please share photos of your reusable containers or alternative ways of not using plastic with #plasticfreevanlife and #plasticfreejuly.
- World Health Organisation
- Center for Biological Diversity
- National Geographic: Planet or Plastic
How will you go about buying dog food? How will you go about buying fuel canisters? How will you get around that one thing each month that you need that comes in plastic? Comment below with questions, comments or resources. Let's start a discussion.
Produced & edited by Kathleen Morton.
Photos courtesy of Emily + Corey of Where's My Office Now.